Film Review: C’est La Vie

Best-known internationally for the huge French hit The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s (writers and directors) latest lacks that one’s social sting, as C’est La Vie! is more a multi-character ensemble comedy with a knockabout tinge that is right on the very edge of a nervous breakdown.

Max Angély (the very fine Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a cranky but esteemed caterer who’s been organising events for decades. He thinks that a mightily expensive wedding reception for the nice Héléna (Judith Chemla) and the awful Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe) in a 17th Century château will be his final gig.

He has a huge staff, all of whom naturally come with often very French foibles, and the expected chaos starts early, even as Max tries hard to do the right thing by all, especially his not-so-secret mistress Josiane (Suzanne Clément). His front-of-staffer Adèle (Eye Haidara) loves winding him up, the DJ (Gilles Lellouche as James) is crude and boorish, and the photographer (Jean-Paul Rouve as Guy) is equally tactless and keeps scoffing the hors d’oeuvres.

The almost-24-hour-long experience is beset by problems including spoiled food, bruised egos, misjudged fireworks and a priceless bit of business involving a precarious balloon stunt. All the while Max attempts to hold everything together, and we feel his disappointment in all these people, so many of whom are ostensibly his friends and he fought hard to have on board, as they let him down over and over, however hilariously.

Of course, Nakache and Toledano aren’t really cruel or malicious at heart, and they keep reminding Max and us that they’re all kinds of wonderful, too, as layers are stripped away and we’re allowed to see the sweetly struggling individual beneath the potential catastrophe.

It’s hardly cutting-edge stuff and there’s a certain conventionality (and predictability) here but it’s all fairly lovely anyway. There’s also a conscious nod to France’s multiculturalism, particularly with a group of Indian employees who barely understand a word Max says and offer bewildered commentary in funny subtitled Tamil.

Rated M. C’est La Vie is in cinemas now.

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